“I want to be famous” — Jane Hall says farewell to her father’s mentor

Jane Hall and Margaret Gregory, New York Times, November 16, 1933.

Jane Hall and Margaret Gregory, New York Times, November 16, 1933.

It did not take Jane long to plunge right back into juggling school and her social life once she returned to Manhattan at the end of September 1933. At the newly coeducational Day Art School at Cooper Union (no longer called the Woman’s Art School), Jane signed up for Ornamental Modeling, Advanced Composition, Perspective, Advanced Design and, her favorite class, Life Drawing and Painting. She felt good about her second year—”I’m drawing much better, it seems to me, than I did last year. But I have to,” she told her diary. At least there were few distractions from boys at the day school– they all had jobs and continued to enroll in the Night Art School.

Jane would do her best work over the next two years in Life Drawing, taught by the well-known American regionalist painter, John Steuart Curry. A Kansas farm boy, Curry shared Jane’s love for animals and nature. After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago as well as in Paris, Curry worked as an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post  between 1921 and 1926, the years when Tom Masson saw to it that Dick Wick Hall’s stories were featured in the magazine. As her second year at Cooper Union began, Jane knew she should try extra hard in Mr. Curry’s class.

But once again, school did not have her undivided attention. The elaborate process of  being introduced to Society enthralled Jane as she entered a world fueled by publicity and filled with spectacle. Between October 1933 and April 1934, Jane supplemented her diary with “an authentic and unexpurgated record of the haps and mishaps attendant on ‘Coming Out.'” This “Debutante’s Year Book” is the chronicle of a participant observer – a reporter and party girl who yearns to have her own story matter. It’s a tale of seduction by the temptations that are integral to a life of glamour – and of Jane’s reaction to the young men who, once she was “out,” competed mightily with her mission to become an artist or a writer or both. Jane did not write in the year book every day. Instead, she recounted a series of incidents, some of which would inspire her future stories and screenplays.

One of these memorable experiences occurred at the end of the last weekend of October 1933. She’d been the guest of Doug Frank and his parents in East Orange, New Jersey. They’d gone to the Rutgers-Lehigh football game (Rutgers won 27 to 0), and a party afterwards. On the way back to the city on Sunday afternoon, Jane stopped to see an ailing Thomas Masson and his wife, Fannie, at their home in Glen Ridge. The 66-year-old humorist and editor, now bedridden, was much smaller than she remembered. But she was touched that Masson agreed to see her because “I am my father’s daughter.”

The Massons, Jane reported, “had the Navajo rugs Daddy gave them on their sun porch. Masson and I were discussing Daddy’s temporary fame and his untimely death and he said, ‘so, it all goes back into Limbo. But that doesn’t matter.’ Well I think it does matter. I want to be famous and stay famous and have everybody and everybody’s great-grandchildren know I am and was famous.” Eighteen-year-old Jane knew this line of thought was presumptuous, but she didn’t care. She was still incensed by the fact that her Daddy’s life had been cut short just as he became well known.

Tom Masson died eight months after Jane’s visit. Her job over the next few years would be to channel her ambition and anger into deciding what she wanted to accomplish. In the fall of 1933, plenty of people would see her pictures in newspapers as a debutante; Jane knew what a laugh her father would have had over that way of getting attention. Still it was great fun at the time.

More fun starts soon! Such Mad Fun is about to be launched. The website will have the details.

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